Rome Christmas 1839.
My Dear Sir
I have this moment returned from the imposing ceremony of high mass performed by the Pope himself at St. Peters, surrounded by the venerable body of cardinals in their magnificent robes, and attended with the sp[l]endor and Pomp usual to Romish Church ceremonies. Of course my brain is in some confusion, and you must not look for a very coherent letter. I found on the table a note from the Sedgwick family saying that Miss Maria was to leave [R]ome [for] London on Friday morning, to take the steamer for America and inviting us to send dispatches by her and though I am principled against sending letters by private hand yet have such confidence in the carefulness of her character [as] to think it no risk in this case. I was very much gratified to find that you had not forgotten or rather thought enough of me to take the trouble of writing a letter which you will parden me for not answering by the last steamer inasmuch as there was hardly time for a hasty scrawl. We have as yet, been hardly long enough in Rome to become quietly settled to study. So many objects of interest to attract. Though we have spent considerable time visiting the galleries of different palaces, the museums of the Vatican and Capitol ancient remains, and churches rich in glorious works of painting & sculpture, much yet [is] left for us. But for myself I become tired of such endless sight-seeing and with the exception of the galleries shall abstain mostly for the future. Mr Cheney and myself who have one large room in common have made some drawings from a model a beautiful boy with an unusually expressive face but no painting yet. I find that there is nothing that comes within a students desire models, draperies, costumes, lay figures &c but are readily to be found. So that there is no excuse for idleness. To one who has had a little experience of the bore of manufacturing “pot-boilers” to order and by the cartload it is delightful to have perfect leasure to study in the manner and [xxx]on those subjects the most pleasing. I am contriving a composition for which I hope presently to set up a canvass, and employ models. With respect to the great works
here in painting the renowned frescos of Raphael in the Vatican and of Michel Angelo in the Sistine chapel though I was not overwhelmed with admiration I was not so much disappointed as I expected and as [we] read, of that most artists who visit them with expectations raised to the highest pitch. Perhaps having been accustomed at Florence to see works of a similar kind of excellence by Del Sarto [&] others prepared me to enjoy these more readily. They certainly would wofully disappoint one who was looking for the graces & luxuries of painting such as brilliancy of effect, variety, delicacy & harmony of colors, transparency, powerful relief & naturalness &ce qualities which constitute a great part of what is admirable in modern productions. The Last Judgment of Michel Angelo I cannot claim to admire it seems confused in the extreme, the crowd of figures are without doubt drawn foreshortened with masterly skill but there is an evident exaggeration, an overstrained exertion to produce effect by violent action of muscles and limbs twisted almost to contortion for the sake of foreshortening, which to me, is very disagreeable. The figure of Christ appears clumsy & wanting in majesty. Perhaps this is not very modest and is doubtless owing to want of feeling for the mightiest heroic style of the greatest masters. One of the greatest treats I have had in Rome was a visit to the studio of Thorwaldsen the renowned Dane, And, I believe without dispute, the preeminent sculptor of modern times. A very extensive range of studios are filled with the casts of his works, and in some instances the originals, a large portion bassi relievi and all full of natural ease, fine expression, simplicity, or heroic dignity according as the subject seemed to require. He must be a man of a very noble mind, and of unceasing industry to have produced [su]ch a great number of works. I dare say you would [have] to hear something of Crawford as he is a friend of Page and of Philip (with whom you are acquainted before now I do not doubt). He has been confined by a severe fit of sickness and was for a time thought to be in great danger but is recovering rapidly. Owing to his sickness I have not seen him as Mr. Green the American Consul, his particular friend, would not allow him to be visited. I [to]ok an early opportunity of looking into his studios, to see the Statue of Orpheus descending to the shades which he has modeled during the last four months (his first statue) and I can assure you it is a very noble figure. He is represented advancing; the motion admirably expressed leaning forward with a [xxxxx]ing expression assisted by [the] hand raised and shadowing [t]he [f]ront the action of one who would penetrate obscurity, the other rests carelessly upon or rather supports the lyre slightly. It is a fine youthful active figure full of spr[in]giness and the face has the true expression of anxiety and ardent pursuit. It is very simple, a slight drapery flows from the shoulders swayed by the motion. I have formed from the statue a high opinion of Crawfords talents and all his friends speak of him as having studied with incessent industry [&] ardor. There are now, studying in Rome, 8 American artists. I suspect the greatest number that were ever here at once, almost enough to form a little academy by ourselves, two draw in the English academy from life, the rest of us will be obliged to scatter to private schools for this purpose. I am glad to hear of the Success of the Apollo and thank you sincerely for your e[ff]orts in my favor. I should be glad to send out pictures for the next exhibition and if an opportunity offers, shall attempt it. Meantime I hope, the two heads that I sent from Florence and which I suppose are now on the Mediterranean will not be shipwrecked as I would not like to be without something in the [E]xhibition of the Academy. What a motive for dreading a shipwreck! Mr Grey, who is writing to some friend, sends his respects to you. I am obliged to Mrs Ridner for remembrance and beg to send her my best regards. Do not delay to write me excuse the mistiness of this letter & believe me
very truly yours